The Grand Ole Gospel Reunion is a one-of-a-kind event due to the fact that we never assemble in the same way year after year.  Here we pay tribute to the legends and various contributors of gospel music who have passed away since the 2013 GOGR.


Bio courtesy SGMA

 

Eddie Wallace spent his entire career performing both as a singer and a piano player for the Sunshine Boys. The versatility of this group led to Ed being involved in many ‘firsts’ in Gospel Music – radio and television programs with National Sponsorships, performing USO shows, holding war bond rallies, starring in western movies, and headlining on the Nevada circuit.

For several years the Sunshine Boys performed as two different groups on radio station WAGA. Eddie would switch from piano for the Sunshine Boys to the accordion for The Light Crust Dough Boys to perform Western swing music.

As Decca artists, the Sunshine Boys sang vocals on Red Foley’s hit “Peace In the Valley,” one of the biggest selling recordings in Gospel Music history.

Ed was offered positions with numerous top groups, but chose to spend his complete career with his first choice…The Sunshine Boys. Ed set the standard as both a singer and piano player proving one must remember words, parts, harmony, balance, blend, phrasing, rhythm, tempo and introductions – a true musician.

Eddie was the recipient of the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion’s Living Legend Award in 1995, and a 2005 inductee . Along with The Sunshine Boys, Eddie was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame, and received the Pioneer Gospel Award of the 23rd Annual Society of Entertainers. The Sunshine Boys were also honored in 1983 in the Walkway of the Stars in Wheeling, West Virginia. Eddie and Fred Daniel were co-recipients of the Dub Taylor Award, an award presented to performers in western movies.

After a period of declining health, Eddie Wallace passed away at 90 years of age on August 5.


Bio by Alan Kendall

 

Clark Thompson's career in gospel music was not long, but his impact and influence on the genre lasted for more than five decades. Clark joined David Reece and Roy McNeal in the Rangers Trio in 1960, where he remained for three years. Far ahead of their time, The Rangers' recordings featuring Thompson, Reece, and McNeil are among the most coveted musical treasures in gospel history. Their sound, intricate harmonies, and style remain influential even today.

In 1963, Thompson left the Rangers and entered into pastoral work at Shopton Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC. Clark was a favorite at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion for many years. During the 1990s, he formed the Clark Thompson Trio, joining Mike LoPrinzi and Wallace Nelms. This group sounded uncannilly like the Rangers Trio, in addition to performing many songs written by Clark Thompson himself. He received the Living Legend Award at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 1996.

Clark Thompson passed away on August 4, following a fall and a period of declining health. He was 90.


Bio Courtesy Singing News

 

Jack Smith, former Steel Guitarist for the Happy Goodman Family, and former owner of Nashville's "Tape & Disc Factory" duplication services, died July 6 as the results of an Automobile accident. Jack had been released from the Hospital, where complications, while at Home, caused his death. 

Smith's Steel Guitar creativity was a foremost part of the popular Happy Goodman Family Band sound, and the singing groups very stage presence. Singing News Writer Bob Crawford stated, "Jack Smith's innovative Steel Guitar intros not only made so many Goodman songs instantly recognizable, but perhaps set the pace of gospel music bands for many years to come".

After his exit from the Goodman Band, Jack traveled with Country Entertainer Bill Anderson, as well as being a popular Nashville Recording Studio Musician. Even though having relocated to Arizona, Mr. Smith continued to play on numerous gospel recording sessions. He had most recently played on The Brady's newest project, as well as being currently involved on new Big Mo Ostrander sessions. Many times Jack refused to take payment for his work, as a way of returning favors to his many friends in gospel music. 


Bio by Alan Kendall

 

Donald Frasier began his gospel music career in 1967 when he joined The Trav'lers Quartet as pianist.  It was during Frasier's years with the Trav'lers that they were regulars on Bob Poole's Gospel Favorites television program, and his piano talents are showcased on the Trav'lers' popular "If Not Today, Then Maybe Tomorrow" album.

After three years with the Trav'lers, Frasier answered the call to full-time ministry, combining his piano, singing, and arranging talents with his preaching, as well as producing his own nationally-syndicated television program called "Adventures of Faith".  After earning his PhD in 1980, Frasier expanded his ministry to marriage counseling.

Frasier continued traveling as a soloist and evangelist, as well as contributing a monthly column to Absolutely Gospel website entitied "Golden Nuggets".

Tragically, Don Frasier was shot and killed at his home in Houston, TX, following a struggle with a burglar who had broken into his home on July 3.  He was 69.


Bio Courtesy SGMA

 

Don Light was born in Greenbrier, TN, on April 22, 1937.  A former Grand Ole Opry drummer, he managed Billboard’s Nashville office before establishing Don Light Talent in 1965 as the first agency to book Southern Gospel groups. His first groups were the Happy Goodman Family and The Oak Ridge Boys. He later added groups like the Florida Boys, Rambos and the Cathedrals.

He co-founded the Gospel Music Association and was the first Chairman of the Board in 1965. In 1968 he served as President of the Nashville Grammy Chapter.

In the early ’70s, Don moved into artist management, working with Jimmy Buffett, Delbert McClinton, Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, Mark Collie, Dailey & Vincent, The Steep Canyon Rangers, and others. In 1974 he was awarded the Founders Award from the National Association for Campus Activities that is presented to an individual who, throughout their affiliation have given continued and outstanding service to the organization, have exemplified the standards of professional integrity and conduct, have achieved stature in their professional or academic pursuits, hold the esteem of colleagues and peers, and have worked to further the field of campus activities programming.

He was President of the Nashville chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the Sound & Speed event, which benefits the Country Music Hall Of Fame, and the Victory Junction Gang, and also serves on the board of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as the International Bluegrass Music Association.

In 2005 Don Light was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the recipient of the Living Legend Award in 2007 at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, and was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

Don Light passed away on June 18.  He was 77.

 


Bio by Alan Kendall

 

Born May 30, 1935, in Pontiac, Michigan, Bobby Clark was one of gospel music's biggest voices, and the last remaining original member of the Cathedral Quartet. Clark began his career during the early 1950s with the Starlight Opera of Kansas City, Missouri. In 1955, Bobby heard gospel quartet music for the first time when he attended a Blackwood Brothers concert. The concert would change his life. Upon meeting the Blackwood Brothers, Bobby soon connected with Jimmy Jones, and joined the Deep South Quartet two months later. Bobby also spent the latter part of the 1950s singing with the Oak Ridge Quartet, and a reconfiguration of The Rangers Quartet, which soon evolved into the Rangers Trio.

Following the Rangers, Bobby soon joined the Weatherfords and the staff of the Cathedral of Tomorrow, replacing Lily Fern Weatherford, who left to spend time with her young children. In 1963, when Earl Weatherford decided to leave the Cathedral, Bobby, Glen Payne, and Danny Koker chose to remain in Ohio, forming the Cathedral Trio. The following year, George Younce joined and the group became the Cathedral Quartet. From 1964 through 1968, George, Glen, Bobby, and Danny set the standard for what would become one of the most influential gospel quartets of all time.

During the 1970s, Bobby served a short stint with the Dixie Echoes, and again with the Cathedral Quartet, and performed with the Frontiersmen during the 1980s. When not singing gospel music, Bobby spent most of these years pastoring and/or returning to his opera roots. In 1994, The Original Cathedral Quartet reunited at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. Having been out of gospel music for a number of years, Bobby quickly captured his place again as one of gospel music's top tenor singers. From 1995 through 1998, Bobby sang with the Men of Music of Austin, Texas. During this time, the Men of Music were commissioned by then-Governor George W. Bush as Goodwill Ambassadors for the state of Texas.

In his final years, Bobby returned to pastoring, and performing as a soloist. In 2009, Bobby released his book, The Cathedral Quartet - The Early Years. He was a recipient of the Living Legend Award at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 1994.

Bobby passed away on May 22, following a debilitating stroke. He was 78.


Bio courtesy JCpianoman.com

 

James Clark, best known as “JC”, was born May 5, 1943, in Mission, Texas. As a toddler, JC showed an increasing interest in music. When his sister Naomi began taking piano lessons, he would wait for her to complete her practice and then go to the piano and repeat what he had heard. As he grew older, he would listen to the radio and play along with the music. By the age of 10 he was his church pianist.

JC began doing recording lessons and playing “live” radio in Houston, Texas at the age of 12. At age 13, he amazed the world with his extraordinary talent by playing his first hit record “Chantilly Lace” with the Big Bopper.

He began his professional career in Gospel music playing for the Klaudt Indian Family and the Kingsmen, a local Houston group, later renamed the Inspirationals Quartet, with Jory Walden, Bob Wills, John Hall and Roger Mc Duff. He was picked up on Friday after school and returned on Monday morning in time for school. He also played for the Harmoneers Quartet in Atlanta, Georgia with Happy Edwards, Bob Crews, Seals “low note” Hilton and Byron Burgess. He also felt priviledged to be part of the Weatherford Quartet with Lily Fern and Earl Weatherford, Buddy Campbell, Norman Huxman, Glen Couch, Bob Thacker and Fulton Nash. While part of the Weatherfords he arranged and produced five albums in which he played and sung.

After the Weatherfords moved back to California JC joined the staff of Calvary Baptist in Bellflower,California. He also started doing recording sessions in Hollywood, California which turned into full time work, leaving no time for travel. He was one of the only artists who held two union cards for the musician’s unions of Hollywood and Nashville. Session work included playing soundtracks for the Bonanza TV show, movie sound tracks for Elvis Presley, and playing live on Hollywood Palace with the biggest stars of the era including Bob Hope. After a long absence from playing his favorite music he returned to Gospel Quartet music, spending much of the 90’s with the Blackwood Brothers.

James Clark passed away on April 16.  He was 70.

 


Bio courtesy SGMA

 

Born April 1, 1921 in Kershaw SC, Arthur Smith was exposed to music at an early age. In 1929 at the age of 8 years, he was teaching guitar. At 15 he was developing his trademark guitar licks with his own band and show on WOLS radio in Florence SC.

In Sept 1938 he recorded his first music for RCA Bluebird under the direction of famed talent scout Eli Overstein. Arthur moved to Charlotte, NC, in 1943 and became a member of WBT Radio’s Carolina Hayride. Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks broadcast a daily program, Carolina Calling, heard live coast-to-coast on the CBS Radio Network. The Country Store, another original radio program, featured Arthur and his brothers Sonny and Ralph in a mixture of music and country comedy. In the 1950s, with the advent of television, Arthur Smith hosted the first live broadcast of an entertainment program on WBTV, the first television station in the Carolinas. Eventually Arthur hosted and served as executive producer of the syndicated show, which aired on 90 stations coast-to-coast.

Smith’s most enduring accomplishments may be as a composer. While in boot camp during World War II, he wrote and recorded a jazzy guitar instrumental called “Guitar Boogie”. The recording sold over a million copies and rocketed to the top of the country charts, the first instrumental to do so, then crossed over to the pop charts, again rising to #1. In 1955, he worked up a banjo duet, “Feuding Banjos”, which Warner Brothers later retitled as “Dueling Banjos” for the 1973 film, Deliverance.

Arthur has composed many well-known gospel songs including “Acres of Diamonds”, “The Fourth Man”, “I Saw A Man”, “Shadow of A Cross”, and “I’ve Been with Jesus”. Quartets such as The Florida Boys, Cathedrals, Rebels, and Blue Ridge Quartet recorded his writings. Additional songs by Smith were recorded by Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, and Willie Nelson.

Smith said “I visualized a TV set in the den or living room, with a 7 year old kid lying on the floor, and Dad reading the newspaper,” he explains, “and I thought these were my audience. I never saw millions of people, or auditoriums full of people. I always saw the intimacy that could be created.”

Arthur passed away on April 3, following a period of declining health.  He was 93.

 


Bio by Alan Kendall

 

Richard "Dick" Carper was another vital individual involved behind the scenes of southern gospel music.  For over 40 years, Carper owned and operated Garden Spot Promotions, one of the leading promoters of gospel music in the state of Pennsylvania. 

A veteran of the US Army, Carper owned and operated a grocery in the Lancaster, PA, area until he sold his business in 1985, after which he devoted his time to promoting gospel music full-time.  He was a contributing member of the Southern Gospel Music Association and the Pennsylvania Gospel Music Association.  He was named Southern Gospel Music's Promoter of the Year in 1997 at the Hearts Aflame Awards, and was nominated twice for Promoter of the Year by the SGMA.  In 2001, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Carper passed away on February 5.  He was 87.

 


Bio courtesy Robinson Funeral Homes

 


Born June 16, 1930 in Lavonia, GA, Horace L. Mauldin was another one of gospel music's great songwriters. At age eleven, he began singing with his brothers in concerts and churches. After graduating from Lavonia High School, Horace attended Lee University, in Cleveland, TN where he studied music. Expanding his golden tenor voice, he studied extensively including several years with Dr. John Hoffman in Atlanta.

In 1952, Horace took a position at the Greenwood Church of God where he met and married the pastor’s daughter, Joan Muller. They remained married for sixty-one years. In 1956 he and his brothers began traveling as The Mauldin Brothers Quartet with his wife, Joan, as the pianist. When the brothers disbanded, Horace organized a group with his own family and traveled as The Mauldin Family Singers. In 1981 Horace returned to a minister of music position until his retirement.

Rev. Mauldin was an ordained bishop having served as minister of music in Greenville at the Woodside Avenue Church of God and the Tremont Avenue Church of God. In addition to his beautiful tenor voice, Horace directed choirs and taught singing schools, but was best known for his skills as a songwriter.

Horace’s songs have been used around the world in published choral arrangements and on recordings of major gospel artists. Some of his most popular songs include: "Swing Wide the Gates", "Victory Was Won at Calvary", "Payday Someday", and "My Lord I Want to See".

Horace Mauldin passed away on January 21 from heart failure.  He was 83.


Bio by Alan Kendall

 


Born on May 4, 1941, in Berlin, Georgia, Colbert Croft made a major impact on gospel music, while maintaining his roots and his ministry in the South Georgia and North Florida region.  Married to his beautiful wife, Joyce, for over 49 years, the Crofts promoted gospel music through their annual concerts in South Georgia, and their many appearances on the Suwannee River Jubilee.

Sharing a great musical rapport, the Crofts' biggest claim to fame has been their songwriting.  Having penned hits such as "I Can't Even Walk Without You Holding My Hand", "Is That Footsteps That I Hear", "Flow Through Me", "I Believe He Died for Me", and "The First Million Years", their songs have been recorded by artists including the Inspirations, The Kingsmen, The Florida Boys, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, and others.

Colbert Croft passed away on January 1, after being bedridden for several years.  He was 72.


Bio Courtesy SGMA

 

Born August 27, 1926 in Greenville, SC, Jack Pittman's musical career started as a young teenager singing with the Little Four Quartet. In 1942, he attended the Vaughn School of Music and in 1944, Frank Stamps hired him. While with the Stamps organization, Jack sang with the Stamps Great Plains Quartet, the Carl Raines Stamps Quartet, the Stamps Melody Boys, and the Stamps-Baxter All-Stars. Jack Pittman joined the Palmetto State Quartet in the early 1950s.

Pittman sang with the Palmetto State Quartet for more than forty years. During his time of service with the Palmetto State Quartet, they were known for their excellent presentation of southern gospel quartet music. They appeared as regulars on Bob Poole's Gospel Favorites TV Show which aired nationally on over a hundred and twenty stations with Pittman selling the advertising for the program locally. He retired from the quartet in 1997.

Jack's reputation in Gospel music stretches far beyond the performing stage. He was an astute businessman who never forgot his friends in gospel music. Pittman was instrumental in forming the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 1988. Since that time, the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion has become a yearly gathering of gospel artists and fans. Jack was also awarded the Marvin Norcross Award in 1988.

Jack Pittman passed away on December 29.  He was 87.


Bio by Alan Kendall

Homer Fry was born on November 18, 1928, in Wayne County, West Virginia. A Korean War veteran, Fry became the baritone singer for the Gospel Harmony Boys in 1956, where he would remain until 1989. A staple in gospel music for more than 60 years, the Gospel Harmony Boys were the first gospel quartet to ever appear on live network television as the guest of Dave Garroway on NBC's “Today Show” in the early 1950s. They also hosted the nation’s first weekly scheduled gospel music television program that was regular viewing for a million fans in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia for nearly two decades.

After the Gospel Harmony Boys, Homer Fry was not finished singing. The last 12 years of his life were spent with The Guardians of Chillicothe, Ohio, and Fry always remained an active supporter of the Gospel Harmony Boys, and appeared at all of their reunion concerts.

Homer Fry passed away on November 7. He was 84.


Bio by John Crenshaw

Born in Osceola, Arkansas on December 10, 1945, George Amon Webster spent most of his life proclaiming the gospel in song.

Although George is best known for his two tenures with the Cathedral Quartet, he was also a member of several other great gospel groups. George sang with a popular regional quartet called the Tempelaires in the mid 1960s. One of his singing companions, Mack Taunton, accepted the call to join the Cathedral Quartet replacing their original tenor, Bobby Clark. Soon after Clark left the Cathedral Quartet, their original baritone singer and pianist Danny Koker departed.

Replacing one member in a quartet is a hard task, but replacing a member with multiple stage abilities is even more difficult. Fortunately, thought his association with Mack Taunton, the Cathedral Quartet knew who to contact. George Amon Webster was called and proved to be quite worthy of the task. It was during George Amon's first years with the Cathedral Quartet that the group left the friendly atmosphere of Rex Humbard's Cathedral of Tomorrow and set out as a full time quartet on the gospel music circuit. This group with George Younce, Glen Payne, Mack Tauton, and George Amon Webster soon became known as one of the smoothest and most beloved quartets in the history of gospel music.

George Amon's talents stretched far beyond his lovely baritone voice. When the time came for the Cathedral Quartet to hire a full time pianist, George played the bass guitar in addition to his vocal duties. George Amon left the Cathedrals for a few years, and returned to the group as their full time pianist. Soon, however, he moved back into his familiar role as baritone singer with the quartet. Not only was George Amon a talented vocalist and instrumentalist, but he was also a gifted songwriter. His best-known song, "He Loves Me," was a huge hit for the Cathedral Quartet in the mid 1970s. Another of his songs, "Thanks for Loving Me," was also quite popular in the gospel singing world. 

In 1979, three members of the Cathedral Quartet decided to change paths. George Amon, Lorne Matthews, and Roy Tremble left the Cathedral Quartet to form a short-lived trio called "Brothers." During the ensuing years, George Amon sang with various groups. Anytime a group needed a good baritone singer, George Amon was high on their list. Among the most noted groups were Willie Wynn and Destiny, the Heartland Quartet, the Ron Blackwood Quartet, and more recently the Toney Brothers.

George Amon Webster passed away on September 28, following a long battle with cancer. He was 67.

Bio by Alan Kendall

 

Born in 1942 in Tallahassee, Florida, Mark Ellerbee set his place in history as one of gospel music's top musicians.

As a teenager, Mark began his music career with a group in Tallahassee called The Casuals. During the 1960s, Mark served as a member of the United States Army in Vietnam. Following his discharge in 1969, he joined the Oak Ridge Boys as their drummer. As a member of The Mighty Oaks Band, Ellerbee quickly made many fans and friends, and set a musical standard for the Oak Ridge Boys sound which would carry into their country years.

In addition to his stellar abilities behind the drum kit, Ellerbee was also an excellent singer, being featured on Oak Ridge hits such as "Last Train to Glory", "It's Jesus They Need", and perhaps his most popular feature, the haunting "I Wish We'd All Been Ready". He remained a member of the Oaks band until 1981.

Following his years with the Oaks, Mark put his Psychology degree to work as he spent his ensuing years counseling military veterans in Florida, while continuing to play with various bands through Florida.

Mark Ellerbee passed away on September 21 following a battle with bone cancer. He was 71.


Bio by Alan Kendall

 

A longtime staple of southern gospel radio was Wayne Wallace. Born on August 3, 1945, Wallace was host of the "Dixie Gospel Caravan" show on WDJC for 45 straight years, which featured music and interviews with artists and personalities in the gospel music world.

He was the recipient of the "Golden Mic" award by Singing News Magazine, as well as Favorite DJ many times in the Singing News Fan Awards. He was also recipient of SGMA's Radio DJ of the Year in 1999.

Wallace passed away on September 2, following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 68.


Bio by Alan Kendall

 

Jack Willard Laws was born on December 17, 1944, Bryson City, NC. At age 19, Laws began meeting with several other young friends at Martin Cook's house for evenings of impromptu gospel singing. Before long, the Inspirations Quartet was born. The group began accepting concert dates at churches and functions in the western North Carolina and North Georgia areas, and soon created a loyal local following. Joining Cook and Laws were Archie Watkins, Ronnie Hutchins, and Troy Burns. The Inspirations created a firestorm in gospel music with their exciting style and clean-cut presence. Soon they were regulars on the Gospel Singing Jubilee.

Best known to his many fans and friends as "The Old Bear Hunter", Laws's smooth baritone voice was showcased on many favorites in Inspirations concerts. Songs such as "I Cannot Find the Way Alone", "Only One Door to Heaven", "Too Much to Gain to Lose", and "It Wasn't the Nails That Held Him There", are all associated with Jack Laws. Laws spent multiple tenures totalling 32 years with the Inspirations, serving not only as baritone, but as bass player and guitar player as well. Laws spent his final years performing with Archie Watkins and Smoky Mountain Reunion.

Following a stroke, staph infection, and multiple health problems, Laws passed away on August 27. He was 68.


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